Takashi Miike, perhaps best known (at least around these parts) for the disturbing horror/romance Audition, never one one to confine himself to the same genres, finally turns his attentions to the traditional samurai epic. In remaking the 1963 movie of the same name, Miike has made something that honours the chanbara tradition but also succeeds in giving it his own unique twist. The plot is standard samurai fare, an evil lord, Naritsugu, rising in influence feels free to indulge his every whim on his powerless subordinates, this includes rape/murder/child murder/mutilation/outright barbarity. Finally other lords grow weary of him, some committing suicide in protest and it is decided that Naritsugu must be removed, however his personal forces stay loyal to the samurai code and to their lord. Enter Shinzaemon Shimada, a world weary samurai eventually convinced to take on the task of eliminating Naritsugu, who then gathers twelve other men to become the eponymous thirteen.
So far, so Seven Samurai. However, Miike’s usual quirks and personal touches are very much in evidence, if slightly more reserved than we’ve seen before. Surprisingly, much of the gore that’s been associated with Miike is often just out of shot, with prime place being given to the sound of the terrible acts taking place. We don’t see the lords committing suppuku, or Hara-Kiri, we hear them, the sound of the knife tearing through their flesh, of a head coming off and rolling away, and the effect is so much more terrible. In fact the entire soundscape of the film is very impressive, steel clashing with steel, arrows flying with total clarity and we never lose sight of where we are. The final battle scene is remarkably well done, it never drags and Miike keeps such tight control that even through all the chaos of the battlefield, the audience is never allowed to get lost. Any fan of Miike or of the samurai genre would regret missing this, a very notable addition to both groups.